The gospel reading at Mass this weekend is the parable of the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus. (No, not the same guy Jesus raised from the dead. Apparently, Lazarus was the first century version of Bob or Fred, that is, a very common name.) The rich man, Jesus explained, “dined sumptuously each day,” while Lazarus was “covered with sores” and “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”
Eventually both men died and received their just rewards in the afterlife: Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham at the heavenly banquet, and the rich man suffering in fiery torment.
The rich man cried out to Abraham, pleading for pity and some relief. But Abraham answered: Sorry, pal, “you received what was good during your lifetime, while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.”
Many people nowadays say to themselves, “I’m basically a good person. I never murdered anybody. So God will be good to me.” However, we should take heed of this parable. The Golden Rule, a direct command from the Lord, is not passive. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is a call to actively do something, rather than passively sit back and not hurt anyone.
Also, please be advised: those of us living in North America here in the early part of the 21st century are probably more susceptible to “rich man’s blindness” than any other generation in history. Even lower middle-class folks today have far more wealth and comfort than even the rich man in Jesus’ parable.
Here’s a suggested mental exercise: try to image the moment after your death. Your body is still lying on the hospital bed and the doctors are trying to resuscitate you, but your soul has already split from your lifeless flesh and is now standing before the Lord. At that moment, will Jesus ask you how many BMWs you purchased during your lifetime, how many flat-screen TVs you owned, or how many pairs of expensive shoes were in your closet? Or will He inquire about what you actively did “for the least of my brethren,” suffering people like Lazarus? Just askin’.
In the parable, when the rich man realized he was stuck, he accepted his fate, but requested that Lazarus be sent back to warn his five living brothers. On the surface, it appears the rich man was trying to do something nice: save his brothers from a terrible fate. But I’m not so sure. It seems he was more interested in making an excuse for his own actions. His request seems to be saying, “Hey, it’s not my fault. If someone had only explained it to me more clearly I would have acted differently.”
Abraham immediately squelched that notion. He said, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let [your brothers] listen to them.”
And don’t forget, we Christians have Moses and the prophets AND the entire New Testament, which hammers home this message even more clearly.
In a bit of irony, Jesus had Abraham say to the rich man, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Quite prophetic. Even when Jesus Himself died and rose from the dead, people still were not convinced. Many remain unconvinced, even to this day.
But this parable makes it clear: we have been given more than enough warning. When our souls stand before the Lord, we can’t cop the same attitude the rich man did. If we say, “Hey, there wasn’t enough warning, nobody told me,” Jesus is going to shake his head and reply, “Sorry pal. Say hi to the rich man for me. And don’t forget your sun block. I’d suggest SPF 10,000.”
(OK, Jesus wouldn’t phrase it exactly that way. But you know what I mean.)